MARINETTE - Now that Bay Area Medical Center has signed a letter of intent with Aurora Health Care, it paves the way for in-depth discussions on what the future holds for the partnership.

Ed Harding, BAMC president and CEO, said recently that the discussions are likely to take several months, during which time both health care entities will engage in an investigatory process as well as planning the hospital's physical expansion.

"First, we will move forward with (updating) our electronic medical records," said Harding, referring to the Epic software BAMC will install in its facility. Epic is already in place in the NorthReach Healthcare Systems, which is a BAMC/Bellin Health partnership, but hadn't been set up at BAMC as it sought a minority partner.

Harding said BAMC did not want to put something in place that was not compatible with its eventual partner. BAMC had four primary health care systems it was meeting with, including Aurora, which uses the Epic program.

"All the Green Bay hospitals are on Epic," Harding said. He said the electronic medical records system will take nine to 12 months to put in place, and installation will run concurrent with the due diligence process between BAMC and Aurora.

The due diligence process will be handled through a virtual data room, where BAMC and Aurora can populate the site with their confidential information, which in turn can be accessed by hospital administrators and their respective law firms at their own offices.

At BAMC, for example, that means Harding will review Aurora's organizational chart; Bernie VanCourt, BAMC's chief operating officer, will look at contracts; and Rooney Freimund, director of Emergency Services, will look at equipment, just to name a few areas.

At the end of a three-month period, which started when the letter of intent was signed in mid-November, both parties are expected to sign a definitive partnership agreement.

That agreement will spell out the percentage of the partnership, where BAMC will retain control, and the plans for future development in Marinette.

"They (Aurora) will be a minority partner, which means (they could hold) up to 49 percent, but we haven't even discussed that," Harding said. "We may not go up that high, but if a new hospital is in the future - they would be contributing a lot and it could be 49 percent."

A new hospital at a new location, or major renovations at the present campus are on the table, Harding said. If the decision was made to stay on Shore Drive, where the hospital has been renovated many times over many decades, "We would be talking about huge changes to the infrastructure."

As BAMC and Aurora head into the venture, BAMC leadership is meeting with its employees, its physicians and other providers to keep them apprised of the developing relationship.

Harding said BAMC and Aurora, which has a number of clinics in the area and a free-standing outpatient surgery center, need to talk about services they offer and what equipment they have.

"Our facilities are specifically a topic we are discussing," Harding said. "How do we combine our assets? They have their buildings and we have ours."